Monday, September 12, 2005
More on the economic impact of Katrina.
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More about bird flu from the World Health Organization. And here's some answers about why.
If you want the crap scared out of you, read this. Note the dates, it's fiction but it may become reality.
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"I'm waiting for the first prominent atheist to come forward and say that Katrina was God's punishment for America's belief in God."
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(Yes this is two very long passages of other people's writing posted back to back. I post what I find intersting and valuable.)
Wow this is cool. I've made many of these points without really hanging it all together. I don't worry about the future because my generation is about to come into itself in a baptism by fire. But I'm afraid the Boomers have tragically overlooked the deep seated rage and betrayal felt by the people who will be signing those social security checks. This is an extremely long excerpt. I believe it to be worth reading.
Boom Awakening in youth
"In November of 1979, just after an Iranian mob had swarmed into the American Embassy in Tehran, a University of Georgia student center gave a special screening of the movie Patton. The students gave the film a standing ovation, hanged an effigy of the Ayatollah, and then marched through the streets chanting anti-Iran slogans. In 1979, a new breed of college freshman came to America's campuses. Previously, faculty members had lined up to introduce themselves. Suddenly, as a Georgetown campus minister put it, "students began lining up to introduce themselves to us." Meet the smooth opening wedge of the THIRTEENTH GENERATION--what Washington Post writer Nancy Smith pointedly calls "the generation after. Born after 1960, after you, after it all happened." These were the babies of 1961, 8-year-olds of Woodstock, 13-year-olds of Watergate, 18-year-olds of energy crisis and hostage humiliation. In 1979, just as these kids were making life-pivoting decisions about schools and careers, older generations sank into an eighteen-month abyss of national pessimism. For Silent parents, Thinking Small was a midlife tonic. But never having had their own chance to Think Big, the high school Class of 1979 saw this grim mood very differently. From the Vietnam hysteria to Nixon's 1973 Christmas without lights, from Watergate to Three Mile Island--at every turn, these kids sensed that adults were simply not in control of themselves or the world. Annual polls of high-school seniors show that those born just after 1960 came of age much more fearful of national catastrophe than those born just before. These early '60s babies (as we saw in Chapter 2) grew up as the kids whose test scores, and rates of crime, suicide, and substance abuse, marked a postwar low for American youth."
"Unlike the Boomer kids-in-jeans of the 1960s, "13ers" present, to elder eyes, a splintered image of brassy sights, caustic sounds, and cool manner. Moviegoers know them as Tom Cruise as Top Gun, breaking a few rules to win; as The Breakfast Club, a film about how teachers try to punish a hopeless and incorrigible "Brat Pack" of teenagers; as Steven Soderbergh's sex, lies, and videotape; and as Rob Lowe playing the ultimate Bad Influence. In city life, they have become America's kamikazi bicycle messengers, speeding Domino's and Federal Express drivers, murderous inner-city "crack" gangs, computer hackers, and would-be novelists--guys who, as John Schwartz (author of Bicycle Days) puts it, like to "live a little faster." In high schools, 13ers are Asian-American valedictorians and Westinghouse science finalists, more than half of them immigrants or the children of immigrants. Fresh from college, they are the Yale class of 1986, 40 percent of whom applied for investment banking jobs with the First Boston Company--the lucky ones becoming the dealmakers who "age like dogs" in Michael Lewis' game of Liar's Poker. In athletics, they are young Olympians leading chants of "U-S-A! U-S-A!", or "Air Jordan" and "Neon Deion" Sanders with their "in-your-face" slam dunks and end-zone spikes, or one-armed Jim Abbott winning against impossible odds. In the army, 13ers are the invaders of Panama, whose boomboxes may have helped persuade Manuel Noriega to surrender--one of whom said, on receiving a warm goodbye from the Panamanians, "to them it's everything, to us it's just a battle.""
"Older generations see them as frenetic, physical, slippery. Like the Public Enemy rap group, 13ers can appear shocking on the outside, unknowable on the inside. Elders find it hard to suppress feelings of disappointment over how they are turning out--dismissing them as a "lost," "ruined," even "wasted" generation in an unrelenting (and mostly unanswered) flurry of what Ellen Goodman has termed "youth-bashing." Under the headline "Hopes of a Gilded Age: Class of 1987 Bypasses Social Activism to Aim for Million-Dollar Dreams of Life," a Washington Post article complained how "the fiery concerns of many of their predecessors over peace and social justice are mementos from a dimming past." People magazine has coined the phrase "Rettonization of America" to describe how young stars now sell their names and reputations to the highest bidder. Boomers are shocked by the 13er chemical-of-choice (steroids, which augment the body and dim the mind, just the opposite of Boom-era psychedelics.) Soft-drink commercials do not show 13ers chanting and swaying on some verdant hillside, but instead careening (like Michael J. Fox for Pepsi) through some hell-house and winding up on a pile of junk. "What he needs," said a recent Ad Council caption of a confused-looking teenager, "is a good swift kick in the pants." "This is the thought that wakes me up in the middle of the night," says one Boomer teacher in The Breakfast Club, "that when I get older, these kids are gonna take care of me." "Don't hold your breath," answers another."
"Every year through the 1980s, new reports of their academic scores have triggered harsh elder assessments of their schooling and intelligence. The barrage began in 1983 when A Nation at Risk despaired of a "rising tide of mediocrity" emerging from America's schools. Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind declared the 13ers' minds quite closed, and Diane Ravitch and Chester Finn's What Do Seventeen-Year-Olds Know? answered their own question by saying, in effect, not much. And "just when you think America's students can't get any dumber," reported Jack Anderson in 1989, out comes another book like Steve Allen's Dumbth, or another critical report (like Worlds of Difference) putting 13ers on the bottom of the global heap. Right or wrong, and whatever the purposes of these critiques, their message to 13ers and their would-be employers is clear: 13ers got an inferior education and are equipped with inferior skills--that they are (to quote one Boomer college president) "junky.""
"Thirteeners find these criticisms overblown. They look upon themselves as pragmatic, quick, sharp-eyed, able to step outside themselves to understand the game of life as it really gets played. And whatever they are, 13ers insist, they have to be. Because of the way they were raised. Because of the world into which they are coming of age. Older critics seldom acknowledge the odd twists that have so far plagued the 13er lifecycle. In the early 1970s, Norman Lear produced All in the Family-style television shows that bred child cynicism about the competence of the adult world--then, in the late 1980s, Lear's "People for the American Way" whipsawed the grown-up kids thus nurtured with a stinging report rebuking their "apathy and disengagement from the political process." When 13ers were entering school, gurus (like Charles Rathbone) said there was no single body of knowledge they needed to learn, so their schools didn't teach it--then, upon finishing school, they heard new gurus (like E. D. Hirsch, in Cultural Literacy) say yes, there was such knowledge, and they hadn't learned it. Thirteeners were told, as Rathbone (and many others) had urged, to be "self-reliant, independent, self-actualizing individuals." So they learned to watch adults carefully and emulate how they behave--finally becoming, like Tatum O'Neal in Paper Moon, the kind of kids adults have a hard time finding adorable."
"Imagine coming to a beach at the very end of a long summer of big crowds and wild goings-on. The beach bunch is sunburnt, the sand shopworn, hot, and full of debris--no place for walking barefoot. You step on a bottle, and some cop cites you for littering. That's exactly how 13ers feel, following the Boom. Like River Phoenix in the film Running on Empty, first-wave 13ers have had to cope and survive in whatever territory Boomers left behind, at each phase of life. Their early access to self-expression and independence stripped them of much of the pleasure of discovery and rebellion--leaving them, in Brett Easton Ellis' words, "looking up from the asphalt and being blinded by the sun." By the time Ellis' peers came of age, the symbolic meanings--of sex, drugs, student rights, whatever--had all faded. What they found, instead, were the harsh realities of social pathology. One by one, 13ers have slowed or reversed these trends--the SAT decline, the youth crime, the substance abuse, the early sex--but they have felt the full brunt of them, and they have all borne the ensuing adult criticism."
"Thirteeners, not Boomers, were America's true "children of the 1960s." And, especially, the 1970s. An awakening era that seemed euphoric to young adults was, to them, a nightmare of self-immersed parents, disintegrating homes, schools with conflicting missions, confused leaders, a culture shifting from G- to R-ratings, new public-health dangers, and a "Me Decade" economy that tipped toward the organized old and away from the voiceless young. "Grow up fast" was the adult message. That they did, graduating early to "young adult" realism in literature and film, and turning into what American Demographics magazine has termed "proto-adults" in their early teens (where, two decades earlier, Boomers had lingered in "post-adolescence" well into their twenties)."
"At every phase of life, 13ers have encountered a world of more punishing consequence than anything their Silent or Boom elders ever knew. Consider the 13ers' matter-of-fact approach to sexuality, yet another trait that has brought adult complaint. First-wave 13ers were just coming of sexual age when adults were emitting highly-charged sexual signals in all directions. At the time, sex education was unabashedly value-neutral, empty houses provided easy trysting spots, and the 13ers' parents were, like Ellen Goodman, "equally uncomfortable with notions that sex is evil and sex is groovy." With the adult world having removed attitudinal barriers against promiscuous sex, 13ers have begun re-erecting age-old defense mechanisms: platonic relationships, group dating, and a youth culture (reminiscent of Lost-era street life) in which kids watch out for the physical integrity of their own circle of friends. The 13er attitude, as Redlands College's Kim Blum puts it, is that "the sexual revolution is over, and everybody lost."
"The 13er lifecycle experience has, so far, been the direct inverse of the Silent. Where the Silent passed through childhood in an era of parental suffocation and entered young adulthood just as barriers to youth freedom began to loosen, 13ers have faced exactly the opposite trends. Where the Silent had grown up with a childlike awe of powerful elders, 13ers acquired an adult-like fatalism about the weakness and uncertainty of elders--and questioned their ability to protect them from future danger. When the first Silent were children, America was in the skids of depression--but, by their twentieth birthday, public confidence was vast and rising. When the first 13ers were born, America was riding high and G.I. leaders seemed to be achieving everything at once--but then, as they reached adolescence, the nation mired itself in doubt."
Confronted with these youthful facts-of-life, 13ers have built a powerful survival instinct, wrapped around an ethos of personal determinism. In the 13er world, what a person is, what he looks like, and whether or not he succeeds depends less on what a person is inside than on how he behaves. Thirteeners are constantly told that whatever bad things strike people their age--from AIDS to drug addiction, from suicides to homicides--are mainly their fault. In this sort of youth environment, staying alert to the physical is an assertion of virtue. Unlike Boomers at like age, a low-income 13er probably comes from a world of splintered families and general hopelessness--and has little in common with some "Richie Rich" out in the suburbs. And so kids feel obliged to dress up (at an age when most Boomers dressed down) to preserve self-esteem in a world of success-fixated peers.
"Doing what they feel they must, knowing it brings adult criticism, 13ers have come to accept, even to take a perverse fun, in what a young rapper would call "Attitude," in being "BAAAAD." They tend to agree with their elders that, probably, they are a wasted bunch. From the standpoint of an individual 13er, weak peer competition isn't such bad news. Their own cultural artifacts make half-comic reference to their own garbagy quality. Chris Kreski, the 26-year-old lead writer for Remote Control, a 13er-designed TV quiz-show parody, admits his show is "stupid." (In 13er lingo, words like "stupid," "bad," "random," and "radical" are words of praise.) The Bon Jovi song You Give Love a Bad Name became an instant hit among the teens of the 1980s. In River's Edge, a film evoking how many 13ers look at life, one teenager mockingly says to his buddies "You young people are a disgrace to all living things, to plants even. You shouldn't even be seen in the same room as a cactus.""
"As they struggle to preserve what optimism and self-esteem they can, 13ers have developed what psychologist David Elkind calls the "patchwork self." Two decades ago, older generations saw national purpose in youth. Not now--not these youths, anyway. As first-wavers [1961-1964] find themselves elbowed aside by Boomers seemingly at every turn, last-wavers [1974-1981] lock their radar onto Nintendo and join the Spurtlegurgles in singing the lyric of a missionless childhood: "We're here because we're here because we're here because we're here." Lacking the ego-strength to try to set agendas for others, they instead react to the world as they find it. They're proud of their ability to poke through the hype and the detail, to understand older people far better than they are understood themselves. They take some solace in the privacy that affords them. In general, they like but don't respect the Silent, and respect but don't like the Boom. Some day, some way, they'd love to get those Boomers on life's equivalent of Remote Control, swivel their yuppie chairs around, and dump them in a vat of greenish goo."
"My generation was born on Friday the Thirteenth," insists Bowdoin College's Gregg Linburg. "That's a day you can view two ways. You can fear it, or you can face it--and try to make it a great day in spite of the label. That's what my generation is going to do." Counting back to the Awakeners, Linburg's peers are, point of fact, the thirteenth to call themselves American citizens. Demographers have so far given them a name at once incorrect and insulting: "baby busters." Population is not the issue: Thirteeners outnumber Boomers by five million in 1990, a gap widening by the year, and their first-wave (1961-1964) cohorts are among the biggest ever. "Baby bust" theorists see in the name some new youth advantage in a world of easing youth competition--but try telling that to collegians born in the smallish late-1960s cohorts. If demographics were key, college would be a buyer's market right about now. Instead, tuitions keep rising above inflation, and the proportion of applicants getting into their first choice is falling. Yet the worst aspect of this "bust" nomer, and why 13ers resent it, is how it plants today's 25-year-olds squarely where they don't want to be: in the shadow of the "boom," and negatively so--as though wonder has been followed by disappointment."
"To a generation uninterested in labels, we assign a number: 13. The tag is a little Halloweenish, like the clothes they wear--and slippery, like their culture. It's a name the 13ers can see as a gauntlet, a challenge, an obstacle to be overcome. The thirteenth card can be the ace, face down, in a game of high-stakes blackjack. Kings and queens, with their pompous poses and fancy curlycues, always lose to the uncluttered ace, going over or going under. The ace--like this generation--is nothing subtle, but it's nice to have a few around when you're in a jam."
THE THIRTEENER LIFECYCLE:
"YOUTH: The years of the "Consciousness Revolution" were among the most virulently anti-child periods in American history, producing a childhood world Tom Cruise recalls as "kind of scattered." Sacrificing one's own career or conjugal happiness became passe--even, by the logic of the era, bad for kids themselves. As the 1960s wore on, Silent mothers and fathers increasingly looked at their children as hindrances to self-exploration. By the 1970s, they cast an envious eye at young Boomers--who then mainly looked upon babies like headaches, things you take pills not to have. Adults ranked autos ahead of children as necessary for "the good life," and the cost of raising a child (never much at issue when Boomers were born) became a hot topic. A flurry of popular books chronicled the resentment, despair, and physical discomfort women were said to endure when bearing and raising 13er children."
"In Ourselves and Our Children (whose priorities revealed themselves in the juxtaposition of its title), "consider yourself" was ranked ahead of "benefiting our children" as a principle of sound parenting. Popular parental guides emphasized why-to-dos over what-to-dos, concluding that doing the right thing was less important than parent and child each feeling the right thing. To accomplish that, authors like Thomas Gordon (in Parental Effectiveness Training) advised parents to teach children to understand behavioral consequences at very young ages. Popular books by T. Berry Brazelton and Burton White stressed the determinism of the early childhood years, suggesting a child's lifetime personality might be substantially sealed by the time he entered school. As Marie Winn would later note, "early-childhood determinism appeared to be a gift from gods" for parents with new wanderlust or careerism who could thereby conclude that their six- or ten-year-old children could cope with family trauma well enough, given how carefully they had been tended as tots."
"Divorce, and its attendant confusion and impoverishment, became the central fear of the 13er childhood world. In It's Not the End of the World, Judy Blume offered children the tale of a once-happy family disintegrating amidst shouting, slapping, and crying. Hearing these messages, even kids in stable families felt vulnerable and reacted by hardening their shells against adversity. While parents tried to persuade themselves (like Kyle Pruett in The Nurturing Father: Journey Toward the Complete Man) that family dissolution "freed" parent and child to have "better" and "less constricted" time together, these kids saw things differently. (Asked about his own divorced dad, Breakfast Club actor Anthony Michael Hall said: "No comment, but yes, he lives.") Thirteeners knew that where Boomers had been once worth the parental sacrifice of prolonging an unhappy marriage, they were not. Coping with the debris, America's 1970s-era children went from a family culture of My Three Sons to one of My Two Dads, encountering step-thises, half-thats, significant-others, and strangers at the breakfast table beyond what any other child generation ever knew. In Norma Klein's It's OK If You Don't Love Me, a child could ponder the fate of an adolescent girl who juggled a sex life with two boyfriends while sorting through a relationship with her mother's lover, her mother's former second husband, and her father's second wife and their two children."
"In homes, schools, and courtrooms, America's style of nurturing children completed a two-decade passage from Father Knows Best to the tone of self-doubt in Bill Cosby's Fatherhood: "Was I making a mistake now? If so, it would just be mistake number nine thousand, seven hundred, and sixty-three." Alvin Poussaint noted the dominant media image of the parent as "pal," who was "always understanding; they never get very angry. There are no boundaries or limits set. Parents are shown as bungling, not in charge, floundering as much as the children." This was not inadvertent. Parents who admit to being "many-dimensioned, imperfect human beings," reassured the authors of Ourselves and Our Children, "are able to give children a more realistic picture of what being a person is all about." On the one hand, Silent parents were, like Cosby's Cliff Huxtable, gentle and communicative; on the other hand, they expressed ambivalence where children sought clear moral answers, abandoned a positive vision of the future, and required children to respond very young to sophisticated real-world problems. Like father and son in Close Encounters of the Third Kind, adults became more childlike and children more adultlike."
"Through the 1970s, the media reinforced the growing view among children that adults were not especially virtuous, competent, or powerful. Adult life held no secrets. From TV sit-coms to "breakthrough" youth books, older generations made little effort to shield children from any topic, no matter what the effect on a child's sense of security and comfort. "I hate the idea that you should always protect children," wrote Judy Blume, in defense of her books. "They live in the same world we do." Mad magazine's Al Feldstein put it more bluntly: "We told them there's a lot of garbage out in the world and you've got to be aware of it. One "Self-Care Guide" for latchkey children advised kids of "ways you can protect yourself from mugging and assault: Always pay attention to what is happening around you when you are on the street." And so 13ers were deliberately encouraged to react to life as you would hack through a jungle: keep your eyes open, expect the worst, and handle it on your own."
"APPROACHING RISING ADULTHOOD: Even as first-wavers reach their late twenties, this generation cannot be said to have "come of age." Nothing yet cements them as a generation. To date, the 13th remains a splintery generation; people can (and do) find almost anything they want in these kids. Far more than older generations, 13ers come with myriads of regional subgroups and ethnic minicultures, each thinking its own thoughts, listening to its own music, laying its own plans, and paying little heed to each other. Yet the first signs of bonding are beginning to appear--a common alienation visible in 13er art and writing, and in their growing awareness of their own economic vulnerability."
"Through the last two decades, 13ers have been suffering what amounts to a one-generation depression. In inner-cities, this 13er impoverishment has caused adult alarm; elsewhere, it has been less noticed, thanks to a veneer of family-subsidized teen affluence. Even in the suburbs, 13ers entering the labor force are bearing much of their nation's new burden of foreign competition and debt. In industries where productivity is stagnant, two-tier wage systems hold elders harmless while making the new hires pay. Where high interest rates bid up the price of real estate, current homeowners profit, but would-be young homebuyers pay. Even as the 1980s-era spurt of tax reform lowered the tax rate on high-bracket incomes, FICA taxes on after-school wages kept going up. Spurred by real economic need, youths are working younger and longer (and at more dangerous jobs) than any child generation since the Lost. They are having to evaluate their college and graduate-school plans in a colder, less sentimental light than the Silent or Boom ever did. After leaving school, they often find themselves doing the low-wage counter, delivery, and cleaning jobs Boomers have always found demeaning. In most professions--law, medicine, business, the media--13ers are encountering far less promising (or stretched out) promotion paths than the Boom knew at like age, and a smaller likelihood of ever getting a second chance if they fail the first time.
So far, they have concealed their plight thanks to the distinctly 13er habit of calling as little attention as possible to what they are feeling. In life, as when they walk down the street with their "walkmen" and designer shades, they know how to keep others from knowing what they're hearing, watching, or thinking. They leave their troubles behind when they come to work--and take their minds off the job when they leave. Ask them how they're doing, and as long as life stays reasonably patched together, "no problem" is their answer. Thirteeners have learned to adjust by moving quickly into and (when they see a dead-end) out of jobs. They look for quick strikes ahead of long-term promises, the Wall Street Journal describing them as "more willing to gamble their careers than... earlier generations." While some hit it big, most don't. And those who don't run smack into their deterministic ethos--that failure means something must be wrong with you. A rising number are masking their economic problems by "boomeranging" back into the parental house after a few years of trying to make it on their own.
Having no place to "boomerang" to, inner-city 13ers inhabit an especially grim world that does not like them, does not want them, and (as they see it) has nothing to offer them. "There's a growing malaise that young people suffer from," observes Victor Herbert, director of New York City high schools. "They feel they're not to be trusted, they're not good people, and they don't have to follow whatever inhibitions have been built up, especially when they're moving in a crowd." Urban kids have begun reacting with a Clockwork-Orange nihilism that older generations consider proof of their worthless ruin. A new, reactionary style of sexism, racism, and soulless violence has seeped into 13er-penned song lyrics. As "Ice Cube" raps about "bitches," young thugs commit what elders call "hate crimes" targeted against gays, women, and high-achieving ethnic groups. A new breed of young criminal shows a remorseless bent toward killing and maiming for material profit--or just for fun. Prizefighter Mike Tyson has admitted to having "shot at a lot of people.... I liked to see them run. I liked to see them beg." Where Boomer youths who assaulted Silent victims were said to have mitigating reasons for their antisocial behavior, 13ers who attack Boomer victims (as in the Bernhard Goetz and the Central Park "wilding" case) are condemned, in the Boom-led media, as "evil" thugs deserving only of execution or, at best, a stiff term in some boot-camp prison. Back in the late 1960s, Boomer crime was associated with rage and betrayed expectations; today, the young 13er criminal strikes elders as emotionally detached--even insensible.
"We can arrest them, but jail is no deterrent," reports Washington Long, Chief of Police in Albany, Georgia. "I've had kids tell me 'Hell, I ain't got nowhere else to go no how.'" "For them, it's just a matter of fact," agrees Washington D.C.'s Police Chief, Isaac Fulwood. "Often times, they don't say anything. They just sit there and say 'Officer, do what you gotta do.'" As Terry Williams describes it in Cocaine Kids, what is new about 13er criminals is their all-business attitude: their use of calculated violence to protect inventory (smugglers), market share (competing gangs), customer service (safe houses), accounts receivable (addicts), employee relations (runners), and risk management (cops). A young drug-runner, says Chief Fulwood, "navigates in a world where most of us couldn't function, a world where you've got to be cunning, slick, and mentally and physically tough." And, of course, a world in which other choices seem even more hopeless. "I got no plans I ain't going nowhere," sings Tracy Chapman, "So take your fast car and keep on driving."
"When you get beneath the surface of their cheerfulness," observes Christopher Lasch, "young people in the suburbs are just as hopeless as those in the ghetto... living in a state of almost unbearable, though mostly inarticulate, agony. They experience the world only as a source of pleasure and pain." Like a whole generation of Breakfast Clubbers, 13ers face a Boom-driven culture quick to punish them but slow to take the time to find out what's really going on their lives. By one count, the 13th generation has included a half-million family "throwaways"--a word coined just for them. While they blast their ears with boomboxes and "Boom" cars, 13ers know what they're doing. "They tell me it will hurt me down the line," said one 20-year-old Ohioan with a $35,000 sound system in his car, "but I don't care. I'm young and stupid, I guess." Thirteeners know life holds no special favors, for them at least. "I keep hearing this is the best time of our lives," says Harvard student Mandy Silber. "And I wonder--is it all downhill?" Where the Silent and Boom at like age had every reason to expect someday to nestle into law partnerships, tenured professorships, and seats on the stock exchange, 13ers see very clearly the dead-end traps of a "McJobs" economy. American Demographics predicts that the five fastest-growing job fields of the early 1990s will be cashiers, nurses, janitors and maids, waiters and waitresses, and truck drivers. Anytime they see others celebrate, 13ers watch their wallets--believing, as in the Bangles lyric, "Trouble is, you can't believe that it's true/ When the sun goes down, there's something left for you."
"In Less than Zero, an Ellis novel touted by its publisher as heralding a "New Lost" generation, two 13ers have this exchange: "Where are we going?" "I don't know, just driving." "But this road doesn't go anywhere." "That doesn't matter." "What does?" "Just that we're on it, dude." Hemingway and Fitzgerald would have liked these kids, so open-eyed behind those Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses. "Pre-war," Scotty would have called them. Not yet lost, but traveling down that road."
"Late in 1989, as East German students poured over the Berlin Wall, a Washington Post article described high school kids as "left flat" and "utterly unmoved" by events that brought their teachers tears of joy. The youth attitude that strikes elders as blase is, from the 13er perspective, sharp-eyed and real. They have already tramped through the dirty beach where idealism can lead. Remembering how the "freedom" of open classrooms produced noisy chaos and gave them what others constantly tell them was a bad education, 13ers have learned to be skeptical about what happens whenever barriers are broken down. Maybe there will be new wars, maybe bad economic news--at the very least new competition. Amidst his Silent peers' euphoria over the dismantling of the Iron Curtain, pollster Peter Hart published a highly critical report about "Democracy's Next Generation," noting that only 12 percent of 13ers mentioned voting as an attribute of good citizenship. Then again, 48 percent mentioned personal generosity. Having grown up in an age of anti-institutional feeling, 13ers look at it this way: When you vote, maybe you'll waste your time--or, worse, later feel tricked. But when you do something real, like bringing food to the homeless, you do something that matters, if only on a small scale. The President of M.I.T. has likened the 13er civic attitude to that of the Lone Ranger: Do a good deed, leave a silver bullet, and move on."
"In The Disappearance of Childhood, Neil Postman observes that, when 13ers were little, adults gave children "answers to questions they never asked." That problem still plagues 13ers--except now the questions are, in effect, what made you the way you are and how can we fix it? Blue-ribbon Silent committeemen (like Paul Volcker) anguish over how to change their attitude about government, and inner-city Boomers (like Washington, D.C.'s Health Commissioner, Reed Tuckman) "look internally" to understand "how we produced these children." But 13ers consider such efforts a waste of time and energy. From their angle, there's the temptation to play Max Headroom, turn into plastic man, and say a computer-programmed "I'm sorry-sorry." Mostly, they figure it's time to move on--like aspiring opera singer Marie Xaviere, who says "even if you didn't want us, you made us. But we're here, and we're going to make the best of it." What 13ers ask, maybe hopelessly, is to lend an unjaundiced ear and check out what Nancy Smith calls "our 'attitude,' a coolness, a detachment,... and the way we speak: ironic, flip, uncommitted, a question mark at the end of every other sentence." "Dial into our style," invites Miles Orkin in his essay, Mucho Slingage by the Pool. "It's not like some fully bent tongue from hell or anything.""
"Their elders don't yet see it, 13ers themselves only dimly sense it, but this streetwise generation does indeed bring a bag of savvy tricks their elders lack--skills that may come in handy when a debt-laden America someday gets into real trouble. More than anyone, they have developed a seasoned talent for getting the most out of a bad hand. Take note, Beaver Cleaver: Thirteeners may never have glimpsed Nirvana, but they know how to win."
“Economic threats loom heavy on the 13er horizon. To begin with, the first 13er college class graduated from college in 1983--which means that this generation's aspiring elite has yet to confront even mildly harsh economic conditions. Second, never before in American history have public-benefit "safety nets" been tilted so heavily toward retired elders (no matter how affluent) and away from rising adults (no matter how poor). The great majority of 13ers in poverty, for example, are not eligible for a penny in subsidized health care. Finally, many 13ers are starting off with unprecedented financial burdens. No previous American generation has come to the workforce paying such high tax rates on their first dollar of earnings, bearing such large, high-interest student loans, facing so many anti-youth "two-tier" wage and benefit scales, or encountering such high housing costs relative to income.”
“Young workers will find themselves perceived, and treated, as the most expendable employees. To keep their jobs, 13ers will have to show not just promise, but bottom-line results. In sharp contrast to the 1950s-era experience of the rising Silent, many 13ers will pass through their twenties unable to sustain the quality of life--and, especially, the level of consumption--they enjoyed as adolescents. Many of those from affluent families will "boomerang" back to parental homes, dragging out their child-era dependency. Those from harder-pressed families will fall into an unsupported poverty. As the year 2000 approaches, the worries of today's 13ers will crystalize into bleak reality: Theirs may be America's first generation since the Gilded to reach age forty with a lower standard of living than their parents had enjoyed at like age.”
“…These setbacks will send shock waves through the most market-oriented rising generation since the circa-1920 Lost. Unlike the Silent and Boom, 13er self-esteem rests heavily on hopes for economic success--a fact confirmed by countless youth polls over the past decade. Once they perceive themselves failing in the marketplace--amidst continuing criticism of their cultural and moral deficiencies--13ers are likely to react in the same hard-bitten manner as the Lost did when they encountered the Missionary Vice Squads. Many will quietly blame themselves. Others will lash out against midlife Boomers, who will remain contemptuous of 13er ideas and aspirations (in stark contrast from how rising-adult Boomers were treated by their own next-elders). Boomers, by then standing in the way of the jobs, pay, and promotions, will require 13ers to "prove themselves" in a hotly-contested marketplace--in effect, forcing 13ers to move in precisely the "wrong" direction in order to survive. The Boomers' midlife quest to impose moral judgments on grown-up Breakfast Clubbers will strike a growing chorus of thirty-year-olds as pitiless and Scrooge-like.”
“Through their twenties and thirties, 13ers will sense they will never gain much collective esteem from other generations. Their greatest skills will go relatively unnoticed: the capacity to observe, to identify unmet needs, to be "smooth" and conceal feelings when necessary, to move quickly when the moment is right, and to make sure that whatever people try does in fact work as intended. Likewise, 13ers will come to believe that the best way to win individually is by taking incredible risks. They will figure that those who play by the (mostly Boom) rules probably won't get anywhere--so why play by the rules? Many will embrace what might be called the "lottery ticket" mentality: A 13er will be prepared to risk a loss (since he'll already be losing) for a tiny chance to win big. Their career paths will take on a kinetic frenzy. Thirty-year-olds will jump at opportunities their elders will find inconsequential and take on long odds their elders will find incomprehensible.
“Economic risk-taking and cultural alienation will drive 13ers to seek stability in family life. First-wave 13ers may continue the Boom trend toward late marriage--not out of any quest for post-adolescent self-discovery, but rather out of economic necessity and an unwillingness to repeat the mistakes of the 13ers' early-marrying, heavily-divorcing Silent parents. Seeing the dual-income household as a necessary condition for affluence while knowing from personal experience the perils of a latchkey childhood, 13ers of both sexes will look upon working mothers as a temporary necessity to be overcome later in life when income permits. Many will begin marriage and parenthood in the homes of their own parents, enabling them to receive substantial elder help with child care. Once they begin to tire of risk-taking (as did the Lost in the late 1920s), 13ers will become more conservative in their private lives. Turning away from marital infidelity and divorce, they will make a great effort to shield their offspring from the less pleasant facts of life. As parents of small children, 13er moms and dads will combine the Boom's protectiveness with a greater capacity for fun.
“Despite their economic problems, 13ers will blossom into America's leading generation of shoppers, thanks largely to purchases they will make for others (in extended families, or as part of new shopping-oriented services 13ers will run). Accordingly, they will have a huge influence on products, styles, and advertising--much as the Lost had in the 1920s. Once marketers realize this, the American media will be barraged with messages stressing bluntness over subtlety, action over words, the physical over the cerebral. The most successful of these messages will hint at 13er alienation and their well-developed sense of dark humor. Many ads that effectively target 13ers will be pointedly anti-Boom. For example, a 13er copywriter might hit back at the 1990 Coca-Cola ad showing fortyish jeans-clad Boomers on a verdant hillside, teaching their Millennial children the Woodstockian chant "I'd like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony." A retaliatory ad might run a clip of that euphoric Boomer scene, jerk it fast forward, then end with a metallic clang and a message (draped in black): "Drink Pepsi... the Anti-Coke."
“Two sets of questions will haunt the 13ers' young adulthood. First, will their Silent and (especially) Boom elders learn to appreciate that this rising generation does indeed offer something that America will find important, even essential, in the decades ahead? Will the Silent stop despairing over how 13ers are turning out so unlike what they had envisioned--and will they instead see a generation that knows how to compensate for some of the Silent's own worst mistakes? Will Boomers come to realize that the 13ers' very different childhood environment has endowed them with valuable talents--or will they continue to look on 13ers not just as juniors, but as inferiors? The answers to those questions will affect the depth of 13er alienation and the surliness of their forthcoming clash with Boomers.
“The second set of questions has more to do with 13ers themselves. By the spin of the cycle, whatever phase of life they happen to occupy will be (as it has already been) tempest-tossed, laden with perhaps the wrong kind of adventure for people their age. Over four centuries, Reactive generations have been assigned the thankless job of yanking American history back on a stable course--and, afterwards, they have gotten few rewards for their sacrifices. Will this realization prompt 13ers to burn out young--or will it harden a gritty self-confidence around an important generational mission? As America's most perceptive living generation, 13ers can recognize a few crucial facts of life that Boomers will not--for example, that without a little "bad" pragmatism, even the most noble Boomer dreams will never get off the ground. More to the point: Without a few black sheep to slow the shepherd, those aging Boomers might really do something crazy."
This is especially interesting in light of the bizzare brew of optimism and cynicism present in those on the cusp of the X and Millenial generations. We know that anything is possible. We also know that Murphy will trip you at every turn. I learned Latin in a public high school, one of the best in the state. Yet I recognize that my education was shamefully inadequate. The key was the age of the teachers. My favorite teachers all retired within two years of my graduation. Of course they were the most senior most able teachers sifted up to teach the most unusual and challenging classes. The younger teachers were mostly worthless. One example is the honors history teacher who had to go home early because she was so upset about the OJ verdict. There's your generational difference right there. Yet we are also the internet generation. We teach ourselves and parent ourselves and raise ourselves. Imagine the world we will shape. The events of 9/11 and the Katrina hurricane will foster a streak of self-reliance unlike anything seen in decades.
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